Monday, April 30, 2007

Digging Deep For Home Heating.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a long and in-depth piece today about geothermal heat pumps for residential heating.

The basic principle is to use naturally higher ground tmperatures some 200 feet below the earth's surface to heat your house.

The system is environmentally friendly and cost-effective in the long run. However, the up-front costs associated with installing a system are staggering (the homeowner profiled in the article spent $50,000) and the environmental implications of unqualified homeowners or shoddy contractors drilling 200 foot holes all over the place are fairly serious as well (potentially contaminated aquifers, buried gas and electric lines, etc.).

The Chronicle takes this issue seriously enough to run competing PRO and CON pieces about the technology.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Tough Talk from Washington, DC.

In one, single press conference yesterday, US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman not only made a major policy announcement, but he issued a direct challenge to activists who obstruct local energy projects for ecnomic, environmental, lifestyle or social issues.

In announcing the federal government's intention to designate a "national interest electric transmission corridor" through California, the Energy Secretary ordered a high-capacity transmission line be built through California to alleviate strain on the current grid--whether Californians like it or not.

Critics are calling the move unconsitutional--and it may be-- but a federal law passed in 2005 absolutely allows gives the federal government the authority to issue this mandate. (You think there might be a little litigation coming on this one?)

But perhaps the bigger story is this comment uttered by Bodman:

"The parochial interests that shaped energy policy in the 20th century will no longer work... ”

Rather indelicate rhetoric for a Cabinet Secretary!

While Bodman clearly must have flunked out of charm school, I applaud his firm commitment to address the deficencies in our national energy infrastructure.

But it's going to take more than tough talk-- Bodman just poked the greenies, the NIMBYS, and a whole host of other activists with a stick and you can bet they are going to respond. Look for this new transmission corridor to become a bellwether issue.

Feds push new power lines in California, mid-Atlantic states [San Diego Union Tribune]

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Yahoo! Going Carbon Neutral.

Yahoo! the Interent search engine and content provider based in Northern California announced last week that it will be carbon-netural by the end of 2007. Now the company has to figure out how to get there.

According to Renewable Energy Access, Yahoo! "is planning to offset its carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption throughout the company and investing in environmental initiatives around the world, including possible renewable energy projects such as a wind farm in India or a small-scale run of the river hydroelectric project in Brazil."

Yahoo! claims to have "about two-thirds" of the renewable energy policies and projects it needs already in review, but it's asking for consumer input on the the final pieces of the puzzle.

You can share your thoughts with the Yahoo! folks here.

The company estimates that, once completed, this carbon-neutral project will have environmental benefits equivalent to turning off the power in San Francisco for a month or removing 25,00 0 cars from the roads.

Helping Yahoo! Go Carbon Neutral [Renewable Energy Access]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

CAL ISO Prepares For the Future.

CAL ISO approved a new five-year business plan that anticipates major increases in demand for electricity throughout California as the state's economy continues to grow.

According to the ISO's official press release:

Factored into the plan are the following industry trends affecting the ISO and how it serves its customers and stakeholders:

-A growing California economy will continue to trigger rising demand for electricity.

-Imported power will increase as out-of-state suppliers compete to sell megawatts into California.

-Operational pressures will grow as demand rises making new infrastructure investment important.

-Climate changes and environmental regulations will mean the ISO will play a larger role in reducing barriers for renewable power and demand response companies.

California ISO Board Approves Five-Year Business Plan [CAL ISO Press Release]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Legislation Calls For Levy on Natural Gas to Pay for Solar.

Environment California held a press conference in Sacramento yesterday calling for expanded use of solar power in home water heating.

The group touted new legislation, AB 1470 introduced by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, that seeks to "establish a 10-year, statewide incentive program to encourage the installation of 500,000 solar water heating systems to offset natural gas usage for water and space heating." The "incentives" would be funded by a new tax on natural gas usage.

You can get a copy of the report here; you can watch the press conference here.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Geothermal is Hot Topic Around Salton Sea.

The ever-shrinking Salton Sea in Imperial County has been slowly drying up thanks to increasing development and water diversion from the Colorado River. Now, efforts to restore it will have to contend with a major push by geothermal energy interestes to set aside areas around the sea for geothermal projects.

There are already ten geothermal plants operating on the southeastern shore that serve 300,000 residential customers. But, the area is considetered one of the best geothermal resources in the country and the capacity for more projects--that could serve as many as 1.8 million customers-- is ripe for develoment.

Because any attempt to set aside land for new energy projects will most likely be opposed by conservationists and others in the environmental community, look for this to become one of the next "hot spots" in the energy debate. (Pardon the pun.)

Major Southern California cities slurping up more [Desert Sun]

Friday, April 20, 2007

Berkeley Students & Faculty Protest Energy Grant.

BP's half-billion dollar grant to set up alternative fuels laboratories at UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois is being met with protests and derision by students and faculty.

The goal of the labs is to develop clean, sustainable sources of energy and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. But because it's BP that's putting up the money, many in the Berkelely university community are crying foul.

UC biofuels deal drawing opposition [Los Angeles Times]

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Reasonable Commentary on Energy Consumption.

Writing in the Orange County Register, Barbara La Raia, offers a balanced, dispassionate view of the energy predicament in which we find ourselves.

La Raia's fundamental thesis is that energy conservation is every bit as important as the development of new, environmentally friendly energy sources. She points out that in this country we do a lousy job of conserving energy and offers some really basic, easy to implement changes to daily life that could make a big difference.

But the most striking part of her commentary is this:

"First, there needs to be a balance between the philosophies of far-left environmentalists touting excessive regulation and those who minimize environmental problems despite credible findings that they exist. There should be only the most necessary, unambiguous government regulations to assure that the solution is not worse than the problem..."

It sounds almost ridiculously simplistic but it really gets to the heart of the energy debate in California and throughout the nation.

The radical right-- industry-- often downplays or spins many of the environmental impacts of its proposals and plays-- not inappropriately-- the "economically & socially necessary" card. The radical left-- primarily environmental interests-- then goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction and seeks to block, regulate or protest. In the end there is only gridlock and we all suffer for it.

Nowhere was this sad scenario more evident than in this week's nuclear sideshow between Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and Assembly Natural Resources Committee Chair Loni Hancock. Both persons played their respective roles flawlessly, DeVore on the radical right and Hancock on the radical left, and in the end NOTHING got done.

Both the right and the left are guilty of perpetuating this futility. In California we need more clean reliable energy sources like nuclear and LNG, and we need more energy infrastructure such as more gasoline refineries to meet demand and keep gas prices in check. However, if industry isn't willing to make further (and undoubtedly costly) concessions, and until the environemental community abandons its zero-tolerance policy for any progress whatsoever, our problems will only get worse.

California Focus: What we can do for the environment [Orange County Register]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Solar Power Issues Plaguing Consumers.

The Ventura County Star reports that solar installations are jacking up energy costs for some customers and possibly putting some installation companies out of business. At the heart of the issue are time-of-use metering rules that determine electricity rates.

PUC Chair Michael Peevey called the situation "perverse."

The Star notes:

"What makes the issue complicated is it doesn't rest in just one lap. The law requires time-of-use rates; then there is the PUC decision that determines how the program is administered; and then the actual time-of-use rates are set separately."

New rebate rules create uncertainty for solar businesses [Ventura County Star]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nuclear Meltdown.

AB 719, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore's bill to lift the moratorium on new nuclear power facilities in California, died a quick and ugly death in the Natural Resources Committee yesterday. The Committee voted 6-3, along party lines, to kill the bill.

DeVore deserves some credit for having the guts to even show up to this hearing given Committee Chair Loni Hancock's outright hostility to his bill. Hancock curtly cut off DeVore's opening remarks before the Committee, making it clear that the legislation was going nowhere fast.

DeVore is correct that nuclear is a viable energy alternative for California that will not contribute to global warming. Hancock and other nuclear detractors also are correct in pointing out that we need to figure out where and how to store spent nuclear fuel rods. Welcome to the Catch-22 of nuclear power.

So, evidently nuclear is off the table for now. So is coal, and, apparently, so is LNG. Solar and wind power are options but less commercially viable ones. That corner we're painting ourselves into is starting to get pretty tight...

Nuclear power plant bill dies -- committee chair cuts off author [San Francisco Chronicle]

Monday, April 16, 2007

Now Maybe We Can Talk About LNG?

The Sacramento Bee does a little "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" on the Cabrillo Port votes and takes up the issue of LNG.

The Bee's theory-- which I share-- is that we need LNG as a bridge fuel to more reliable renewable energy sources.

But in retrospect, it was impossible to have this discussion because Cabrillo Port became--for a time-- the face of LNG in California. The lines between "opposing Cabrillo Port specifically" and "opposing LNG, in general" became blurred.

The Bee's position, in a nutshell:

"Let's review reality: California is on borrowed time. It is importing roughly a quarter of its electricity from states such as Arizona and Washington that will need more power for their growing populations. California will either have to produce a lot more electricity or reduce demand, likely both. If the concern is air pollution, the worst thing for the air would be to say No to LNG plants here, and let Mexico and Oregon build them. (That would just increase transportation and pollution problems.) The environment doesn't win by exporting the problem to a neighbor. Saying Yes to LNG -- as a necessary part of an overall energy strategy that maintains California as a leader against climate change -- would be a saner course than saying No and somehow feeling good about it."

Editorial: LNG can't R.I.P. [Sacramento Bee]

Friday, April 13, 2007

PG&E's Fancy New Prius.

Blogger Maria Surma Manka at Green Options notes that PG&E has figured out how to use a Toyota Prius to power a home.

She notes:

"V2G, cars are charged by plugging into a three-prong, 110- to 120-volt outlet. But if a home needs energy, like during a blackout or during high demand when electricity prices increase, a switch can be flipped to send the charge the other way, from the car to the home."

I guess this is great if you're on a camping trip or in the event of a black-out, but the notion that a car can alleviate high electricity prices completely ignores the fact that the car will have to be recharged shortly, sucking more power from the grid.

Could Your Car Also Power Your House? [Green Options]

Coastal Commission Piles On Cabrillo Port

The Coastal Commission yesterday unanimously voted against the Cabrillo Port LNG facility. It was a largely symbolic move given that the project was essentially killed earlier in the week by the State Lands Commission.

BHP Billiton spokespersons say they are assessing their options, which include possible legal challenges to the State Lands Commission and Coastal Commission rulings, and a direct appeal to US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

The Governor of California and the Federal Maritime Commission have yet to weigh in, but their consent would also be required for Cabrillo Port to move forwards.

LNG plan is rejected by Coastal Commission [Ventura County Star]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Man Bites Dog.

In the latest fallout from the California Energy Crisis, PG&E, Edison International and Sempra have sued Los Angeles and 17 other cities for price gouging, alleging that the cities sold power on the spot market at inflated prices during the Energy Crisis.

The $100 million suit alleges breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The energy companies concede that the defendants did not engage in market manipulation but benefitted from the actions of those who did.

Power lawsuit hits California cities [Bloomberg]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is Solar Becoming More Cost Competitive?

A solar energy consulting firm in Boston is predicting that, by 2010, the cost per KW hour of solar energy in California will drop from its 2006 level of $0.22 to $0.13, making it competitive with the delivered cost of electricity from a coal-fired plant.

You really have to drill down on the company's methodology and question some of its assumptions (and motivations--this is a photovoltaic consulting firm, after all), but if the general conculsions are accurate-- that the cost of solar is trending down significantly, then making solar a much bigger part of California's renewable energy portfolio isn't such a crazy idea.

After Monday's "no" vote on LNG, the recent ban on coal-fired energy, and continued resistance to nuclear (I call this the "Lloyd Levine trifecta"-- let's all just sit in the dark!), solar finds itself on the short list of viable options.

Dig through the AP write-up on the survey at your leisure...

Solar electricity to reach cost parity with coal-based power by 2010 [AP]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Arnold the Coverboy.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's aggressive green agenda has propelled him to the cover of Newsweek this week.

The interview notes the irony of the "cigar-smoking" environmentalists and leads with a somewhat snarky anecdote about the use of an official (and by implication, exhaust-belching, carbon emitting) motorcade to get from a TV studio to the interview location!

Here's the link to the article:

State Lands Commission Sinks Cabrillo Port.

The State Lands Commission last night effectively killed the Cabrillo Port project by refusing to grant a lease for the pipeline that would connect the facility with the gas distribution network on shore.

While other LNG projects are proposed and in various stages of development, Cabrillo Port was the farthest along and by far the most high profile.

A BHP Billiton spokesperson stated that the company "was committed to the process" but it's unclear what that means exactly.

Gov. Schwarzenegger renewed his support for LNG but is refusing to take a position on the State Lands Commission's vote on Cabrillo Port.

Proposed Off-Coast LNG Terminal Rejected By Commission [AP]

Monday, April 09, 2007

Crunch Time For LNG

LNG is the hottest energy topic in California this week. Two make or break hearings for the controversial Cabrillo Port project take place tonight in Oxnard and Thursday in Santa Barbara.

The State Lands Commission is expected to vote tonight at the conclusion of its hearing- a thumbs down will kill the project, a thumbs up will keep it alive for a Thursday hearing in front of the Coastal Commission.

So after all of the verbal sparring and positioning, it all comes down to this...

In dueling editorials yesterday, the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times take opposng views of the project.

The Merc is unabashedly pro-LNG, noting that it is absolutely critical to California's energy future.

The Times questions whether there is actually a natural gas shortage in California that requires additonal imports. The Times also tips its hat to BHP Billiton, noting that the company has taken"unprecedented steps" to minimize environmentlal damage, but notes that it's still an industrial facility serviced by boats and tankers and, therefore, is bound to be dirty.

Editorial: Keep natural gas plan alive [San Jose Mercury News]

Keep Oxnard clean [Los Angeles Times]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Calpine's Comeback.

After being given up for dead, San Jose-based Calpine is showing is signs of life. AOL's Hilary Kramer notes that Calpine, which went BK in late 2005 and until recently was thought to be ripe for the picking by any of a number of private equity groups, is not your average bankrupt company.

Calpine has real assets that create real cash flow. In addition to customer contracts, Calpine owns 85 gas-fired and geothermal plants and recently refinanced $5 billion of its debt for an annual savings of $100 million.

Calpine is also set to ride the California green wave with a planned geothermal project that will be able to supply up to 60% of the average annual demand for the region between San Francisco and the Oregon border.

Calpine May Be The Turnaround Story of 2007 [Seeking Alpha]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

LNG Hearing Update.

According to news reports, LNG played to a packed house in Oxnard last night at the first of three regulatory herings on the Cabrillo Port project.

The crowd was decidedly ANTI LNG-- 2:1 unfavorable.

The State Lands Commission and California Coastal Commission will hold public hearings on the proposal next week. A vote is expected at both hearings.

Ventura County Star write-up is a pretty good summary of the events.

Nuclear Back In Play?

Assembly Member Chuck Devore has introduced legislation to lift California’s moratorium on building new nuclear power plants. Despite the fact that a lot of people or just inherently freaked out by nuclear power and despite the fact that we don’t yet have a place to store spent fuel rods, recent polling apparently indicates that resistance to nuclear is softening.

Because nuclear power doesn’t burn fossil fuels, it doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. Therefore, it actually enjoys some measure of support from high profile global warming experts like Al Gore. But this is still California and the prognosis for the bill in the California legislature is not good-- Assembly Member Lloyd Levine called nuclear power a “non-starter” (Levine is now on record opposing coal, LNG, and nuclear).

While the Devore bill most likely won’t go anywhere, it will get people talking about nuclear again which is probably a good thing.

Nuclear power revisited in state [San Francisco Chronicle]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hydrogen Cars? Not so fast.

If you are one of those folks who thinks the Toyota Prius is “so yesterday,” and you can’t wait for hydrogen fuel cells, don’t hold your breath. CNET has a really good piece on why hydrogen-fueled vehicles may be farther off than many think/believe. A number of hurdles have to be overcome before hydrogen becomes mainstream.

First, producing sufficient quantities of hydrogen is an issue. The production process requires electricity and making electricity has all the emissions consequences we drone on about so often on this blog. Coal fired power is a non-starter both because of new legislation banning its use in California and because of its hideous carbon footprint. Natural gas is better but there isn’t enough of it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Speaking of natural gas, tonight is the Coast Guard hearing in Oxnard on LNG—go early, stay late—Participate!]. The CNET piece notes that there are greener alternatives like wind and solar but those have issues all their own.

Second, supplying the hydrogen once it’s made is just as tricky. We lack the infrastructure sufficient to get the hydrogen from Point A to Point B. And, hydrogen requires special pipelines because it dissipates rapidly on contact with air.

Finally, even if you can make it and supply it, performance issues abound. Currently, hydrogen powered vehicles can only go 200 miles between fill-ups and hydrogen fuel cells are really, really expensive. Experts say the current price estimate of $107 per KW/hour has to come down about 70% to make the technology commercially viable.

Net-net? Hang onto your Prius.

Studying the hydrogen energy chain [CNET]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Fair and Balanced.

Kudos to the Ventura County Star for its editorial Sunday about LNG. The message is simple: There are things you might like and things you might hate about Cabrillo Port, but the most important thing is for people to participate in the process. The editorial is cut & pasted for your perusal below.

Also, the LA Times has a good write-up as well. The State Lands Commission has a completely different take on Cabrillo Port (it supports it) than the Coastal Commission, which has been among the most vocal critics of the project.

Editorial: LNG hearings are your future

Listen, comment, participate
April 1, 2007

It borders on understatement to say there's a lot riding on a series of upcoming hearings on a proposal to build a floating liquefied natural gas terminal off the Ventura County coast.

For more than three years, proponents and opponents of BHP Billiton's Cabrillo Port have waged a war of words over the LNG proposal. Now, with last month's release of the project's final environmental impact report, decisions on whether or not to grant key permits are at hand.

We urge all residents to take advantage of these final three hearings, not only to express their opinion and ask questions, but also to learn more about the pros and cons of a floating liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast. There are currently two other LNG projects proposed off the local coast, besides BHP Billiton's, but Cabrillo Port is furthest along in the permit process.

The next three hearings are specifically about Cabrillo Port.

Here are the dates to remember:

— Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Maritime Administration will take public testimony; they have 90 days to issue a decision.

— April 9, the state Lands Commission will hold public hearings; a vote will be taken.
Three days later, on April 12, the California Coastal Commission will conduct its own hearing and vote on the project.

Under federal law, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has 45 days following the Wednesday hearing to veto, approve, or approve with conditions, the offshore LNG terminal. If he takes no action, the project goes forward.

The proposed floating Cabrillo Port would be located about 14 miles off the Ventura/Los Angeles county line. It is there that LNG — superchilled to liquid form and transported by large tankers from overseas — would be offloaded, then warmed to a gaseous state and sent via underwater pipelines to Reliant Energy's Ormond Beach power plant, where it would then be piped to Southern California Gas Co.'s Center Road station in Somis for distribution.

BHP Billiton anticipates about 99 tanker arrivals per year at the terminal from Australia.
LNG critics first worried about the risks from terrorism and fire. More recently, air-quality and pollution concerns and the integrity of the regulatory process became the focus.

BHP Billiton, for its part, maintains safety precautions will reduce risks of fire or other accidents. In addition, the company said it will offset the project's harmful emissions by such actions as retrofitting tanker and tugboat engines.

While the massive 3,000-page EIR does not recommend approval or denial of the project, the document — more than a year in the making — covers concerns of critics and reflects public comments and changes made since a draft document was released in March 2006.

Southern California is going to need more energy as it continues to grow. Whether BHP Billiton's LNG project will be part of the equation is the key question facing residents.

It's an important discussion about the county's future that's worth joining.

Copyright 2007, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Heart of the Matter.

The true conflict in the Malibu LNG debate was never clearer than in a "pont-counter-point" oped feature in the Ventura County Star yesterday. The paper ran two op-eds, one pro, one con.
The "pro" oped by management consultant and Westlake Village resident, Jeff Kurfess, makes the fundamental arguments that have been advanced since the beginning of this debate: LNG is essential to California's energy future. Kurfess notes:

"The CEC projects that our total gas consumption will increase by about 25 percent by 2016, a forecast it produced before the California Public Utilities Commission ruled Jan. 25 that California's power companies may no longer import power from out-of-state coal-burning plants, unless they can be made as clean as a combined cycle natural-gas-fired plant. The CPUC itself does not expect this to be possible.

The upshot of this ruling? California will lose access to 20 percent of its currently available electricity supply. Whether from in-state or out-of-state sources, we will get replacement power in all likelihood from generators burning natural gas. Where do we get the gas?"

The "con" oped by Oxnard resident Mike De Martino, is a passionate plea to clean up industrial waste, curb development and make Oxnard a better, safer place to live for his kids. DeMartino's position is not unreasonable. Countless Californians like De Martino feel burned by past industrial projects that have laid waste to the environment and impacted the local area.

So what do you do when both sides are right? This is the maddening part of the LNG question under review this week by California regulators.

California absolutley needs the natural gas supplies. And parents absolutely have the right and the obligation to protect the world their kids grow up in.

While there is no perfect solution, the only practical answer is to compromise and that is what the proposed terminal at Cabrillo Port appears to be. From an economic and engineering perspective, it would have been cheaper and easier to site the facility on shore but that would have had major environmental consequences. By putting the terminal miles out at sea, this mitigates a lot of what parents like De Martino fear about an LNG terminal.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't import LNG. But this isn't a perfect world and as long as we want electricity to power our homes, LNG is increasingly going to have to play a role in our energy portfolio.

The case for LNG [Ventura County Star]

Keep channel LNG-free [Ventura County Star]